State senate says voters weren't very smart

  Were Montana voters confused last year when they passed an initiative halting any expanded or new cyanide leach gold mines? Yes, say some state legislators, and not only confused, but wrong.

"Just because the people said that is what they wanted, that does not make it right," said State Sen. Lorents Grosfield of Big Timber. Sen. Thomas Keating of Billings added, "The people were misinformed through emotional ads."

Legislative ire against the successful push to curb mining took shape through two bills that recently passed the state Senate. One bill would require a second vote on the initiative in 2000; the other would give counties the option of approving a local ordinance to allow cyanide heap-leach mining.

Rancher Mark Gerlach, who lives near a proposed gold mine along the Blackfoot River, said he opposes any plans to overturn Initiative 137, which Montana voters easily passed, 52 percent-48 percent. At a legislative hearing in Helena, he said, "When we voted for I-137, we also voted for you, our representatives. Are you suggesting that we were just selectively stupid, or stupid across the board?"

Jim Jensen, who coordinated the I-137 campaign, said voters knew what they were doing last year. "Regardless of what these legislators say, I-137 was a clearly stated attempt to phase out what is demonstrably a failed and dangerous technology." Jensen said the campaign cited 22 documented cyanide leaks at the Zortman Landusky mine in northern Montana, as well as a cyanide spill at the Golden Sunlight Mine, which polluted groundwater and cost the owners $66,000 in state fines. The bill next moves to the State House.

* Alan S. Kesselheim

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